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Four big European mobile network operators are clubbing together to form the Mobile Payments Services Association.

Step forward Orange, Telefonica, T-Mobile, and Vodafone, founder members of an organisation to drive m-commerce and more to the point, interoperable m-payments across countries under a single brand.
02, KPN Mobile Group and TMN have also expressed interest in joining the MPSA, the association says.

Here's the gig:

  • A new mobile payment scheme that allows customers to make low priced purchases through mobile operator-managed accounts
  • An easier, more secure and more convenient mobile-enabled way to use existing credit and debit cards

A single m-payment scheme with common APIs carries enormous benefits for merchants and software developers. To date mcommerce take-up in Europe has been impeded by fragmented, localised systems - meaning that merchants would have to develop several payment methods. And greedy mpayment operators means that there is very little reward. Low take-up means that there is little point in developing even one system, as early adopters have often found to their cost.

Vodafone has an active mpayment business across Europe, but it is difficult to say that it is thriving. Vodafone may be huge but its market share is much too small to carry enough weight with retailers.

Last month, Paybox, the German-owned pioneer, scrapped its consumer m-payment business with immediate effect.

In a statement, Paybox said it could see "no possibility for a single mPayment provider to develop the industry alone in the current industry conditions, especially amidst the discord between the other important market players (banks and telecommunications companies). The necessary growth and profitability can only be reached with many active market players, which have so far failed to appear."

Well now there's accord - on the part of the telecom firms. What will the banks, and the credit card companies do? They risk being locked out of much of this business, especially if people are paying by phone bill. Certainly, the banks will not carry the whip hand in negotiations with the telecoms firms over commission splits.

With the carriers adopting a common brand - yet to be decided - their customers (the founders claim 270m worldwide) will get a helluva lot more encouragement to pay by phone. Now the operators have to learn to be more generous in their negotiations with the merchants.

Heading up the MPSA, which is based in London, is CEO Tim Jones. He is a former big cheese at NatWest, where he ran the UK retail division and, once upon a time, looked after Mondex, the ecash service which was supposed to change the world.

The four founder members will take equal shares in the MPSA. We guess that new operators will add some equity in to the pot -Symbian-style - as the price of joining. ®

Related stories

Paybox scraps mPayment service
Vodafone enters m-payment arena

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